Where did you go for your summer holiday? Chances are if you live in London you went to at least one of the host of elite spectacles in the Olympics and Paralympics…with a Champions League winner’s post-season broad grin on your face! As my Facebook friends will be all too aware from the number of photos posted from venues as diverse as the Olympic Park, the Riverside Arena, ExCel, Earl’s Court and Wembley Arena amongst others, the Olympics were our family summer holidays. Many sessions we got into were the less popular morning events to help chances of success in the ballot.
At the team events in particular I couldn’t help wondering what rules and innovations, if any, football could benefit from “poaching”. Having seen how other sports have adapted at elite level I have come away with less conservative attitudes. Players introduced individually on to the pitch at the Bridge pre-kick off? No thanks, as it’s a team game and the fact that rival teams come out at the same time and have to go through some fake handshake of friendship pre-match are already too much. None of the following are designed to detract from the gladiatorial team aspect that we love when watching the Blues therefore and the right criteria is surely whether they enhance, rather than unnecessarily replace, what we love about match days at the Bridge.
1. Arguing with the ref
Football hasn’t helped itself over the years. In recent seasons, at least, only the captain is supposed to “discuss” an incident with the ref. If this had been enforced strictly by the authorities from day one you wouldn’t still get other players throwing their toys from the pram and confronting officials. We’re certainly not the worst culprits in recent years and Man U still turn it into an art form. Overall it results in silly bookings for players and if I pay good money for a match I want every chance that the players watching don’t receive unnecessary cautions which, when accumulated, lead to suspensions. It also does nothing to detract from players being regarded as spoilt and overpaid at the top level.
2. 45 minutes per half
Various proposals are whispered by FIFA every now and then about introducing three 30 minute proposals or other time changes. I would suggest there was more of an argument for that thirty years ago when the level of athleticism amongst players – particularly at Chelsea in the dark days of the late 70’s and early 80’s – was nothing like the current level. Perhaps it was the booze, the fags, the relative lack of training or just too many Kings Road clubs after hours…for whatever reason, players struggled to put in a shift for 45 minutes at a time.
Although if a good case were made for it I wouldn’t be automatically opposed, this topic falls under the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” category. ITV are already adept at showing adverts when they should be transmitting a match so the introduction of more breaks solely to increase advertising time is no reason for change.
3. Stop the clock
Many Olympic sports are not the only ones in which this aspect is widespread, perhaps rugby being the most famous example. If the ball isn’t in play for a lengthy period, whatever the reason, the whole stadium would know exactly what time is being added to remaining play. I’m not sure this is necessary though. The old system of referees adding on random periods of injury time for substitutions and goal celebrations are a thing of the past as set periods for these eventualities are added by the fourth official. It’s perhaps a different issue as to whether time for the ball being in play only should be counted within a match – for some games this is only 20-25 minutes per half. Are the fans getting short-changed? Not really, as football’s current time-keeping measures generally ensure value for money and a fair chance for the team who are losing to make the best of genuine injury time.
4. Rolling subs
This is one I’d never thought about for football before the Olympics. It’s there in so many sports we saw in the Olympics including hockey, volleyball and water polo. I like the idea. If Super Frank is fading in the last twenty minutes of a game and is substituted but we get a penalty in the last minute, why shouldn’t Robbie decide to bring him back on to take the crucial kick? Why should a team have to miss out if they’ve brought on three subs and a minute later one of their players gets a serious injury? Take the lead with five minutes left? Change a striker for a defender. Concede a minute later? Switch them over again.
The only reason I can think of against this is that bigger, richer teams would be even more likely to dominate as they can reintroduce the better players at crucial times. The slight leveller that means a replaced player won’t be reappearing would be lost. Interesting, and ultimately I’m left with the feeling that such a rule change would enhance the game.
5. Video replays
Had to get there didn’t I! How long have we got? That a so-called modern sport – by far the globe’s most popular – can’t accommodate this in the computer/ digital/ high-tech era is bizarre at best. For the FIFA authorities to suggest a few years ago that such innovations were unfair as they couldn’t be applied throughout the game, such as in park kick-abouts, was an insult. Every other leading sport now includes it and goal-line technology at least is being phased in at long last. There were even under water cameras in water polo helping to determine when a foul had been committed at the Olympics. Great stuff!
I still have to correct myself that we only won the 2009 Cup Final 2-1 officially, whereas Florent Malouda of course made it 3-1 with a superb strike that was incorrectly disallowed even though it had crossed the line. Not to mention the famous Super Frank goal for England in the World Cup that just may have led to an incredible turn around in the outcome.
The question is always how it should be introduced and clearly football doesn’t have the natural pauses of, say, cricket or tennis. How about looking at the issue the other way round rather than trying to overdefine video use? Each team could have three challenges per half on any decision they like as long as it’s (a) reasonable and not intended only to stop the other team scoring or (b) within ten seconds of the incident. The manager need only tell the fourth official who could inform the ref immediately to halt play. Of course it’s not fool proof – FIFA must have committees galore who could thrash out the details – but it’s a start. This is sport played for tens of millions of pounds. The fans should not be fobbed off with “it’s only a game” or “decisions even themselves out over time”. That’s not good enough given the emotional ties we have to our Club and the money that we shell out in following the team.
6. Penalty shoot-outs
Having been crowned champions of Europe by Didier’s cool rolled-in effort, and missing out four years ago by the width of a post, our fans are more entitled to pass judgment than most. And my view hasn’t changed for many years – penalties are virtually an insulting way to end such heavyweight, vital moments for our Club. Whoever brought them in some four decades ago was being lazy in the extreme.
Penalties reward luck more than nerve and very occasionally, such as in the latter stages of last season’s amazing run, great goalkeeping. They don’t reward skill. A far better spectacle and a fairer outcome would be the old US league system of allowing, say, 4 or 5 seconds, for a player to score from some distance out. The player can dribble or shoot immediately or whatever combination they choose. If the keeper saves and the ball is in play within the time limit, the player can still score. Five players per team take the kicks, with sudden death introduced thereafter if needed, as at present.
This of course is only for cup ties and a draw remains a draw in the league – no reason to change that.
Alternatively take a player off every five minutes in extra time. Anything to avoid the complete randomness of the present system in which you may as well toss a coin instead.
One of the fantastic aspects of going to matches is the timelessness. Many aspects don’t change. But where other sports are leading the way and we can improve the spectacle at the Bridge and elsewhere even more, that’s got to be worth a go, hasn’t it? Food for thought …
Written by Bobby Fletcher